Congressional Black Caucusby Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Posted on 2015-02-02
in the house of representatives
Monday, February 2, 2015
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New Jersey,
Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., and the gentlewoman from Illinois,
Kelly, for organizing this important Special Order on the legacy of the
events at Selma, Alabama.
As Ava DuVarney's Oscar-nominated film ``Selma'' continues to foster discussion about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and bring the horrific events of ``Bloody Sunday'' to life for a new generation, I believe there is no better time to reflect on our journey, both past and ahead.
The march from Selma to Montgomery stands out as one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century. The images are seared into the minds of Americans, and serve as a constant reminder of the violence and injustice that our predecessors faced as they strove for equal representation.
Violence that claimed the life of Jimmy Lee Jackson, beaten by state troopers as he tried to protect his mother and grandmother. His death was a catalyst that ignited the community and inspired the march.
Violence that claimed the lives of Reverend James Reeb of Boston and Viola Liuzzo of Detroit, who had journeyed to Selma to join the protests after the events at Edmund Pettus Bridge on ``Bloody Sunday'' had been broadcast across America.
In spite of all the violence, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow protestors held their heads high and remained committed to their cause, a cause which touched people across the nation, so that when they reached Montgomery the crowd had swelled to 25,000 strong.
The actions of those brave men and women were a shout to the world that injustice and oppression would no longer be tolerated. Their struggles ensured that the blood that was shed, the lives that were lost were not in vain.
The very next week, President Lyndon Johnson announced to the nation that he would put legislation before Congress to eliminate barriers to the right to vote.
We have made great strides towards equality and towards justice since those tumultuous events in Selma, Alabama.
We are honored today to serve alongside Rep. John Lewis, who experienced firsthand that fight for rights and representation.
This congress counts 44 black members among its number, and thanks to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, millions of African-Americans can proudly cast their votes and make their voices heard.
But our work is far from done. The dreams of Dr. King and of all those who gave their lives in the struggle for civil rights are not behind us. They are ahead.
In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling which severely crippled the Voting Rights Act, states across our nation enacted legislation designed to limit the ability of women, the elderly, African-Americans to exercise their right to vote.
In Texas alone, new voter ID laws are estimated to have prevented or deterred as many as 600,000 citizens from registering to vote in 2014.
Such an act is a direct affront to all those who participated in the march to Montgomery, as well as anyone who values the principles of true democracy.
It was exactly these principles that motivated 13 students from Texas Southern University to stage a sit-in in Houston 55 years ago in pursuit of desegregation.
Their actions remind us of that guiding ideal that no action is too small, too local to affect change in our society.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, and it represents not only the hope, but also the blood and tears of millions of Americans.
We must work, through legislation like the Voting Rights Amendments Act of 2014, to strengthen it and protect the achievements of Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams, and all those who made securing the right to vote for African-Americans their life's work.
The freedom to vote is not the only freedom for which we must continue to fight. Across America, our communities struggle for their economic freedom, for the right to opportunity and to financial security.
In 2014, black unemployment was twice that of white Americans, and they are more than twice as likely to live in poverty.
Median income for a black household was $33,764, a mere 60% of median income for a white household.
For these reasons, I will continue to advocate for legislation to benefit the working class, to benefit those members of our community who continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment.
We need legislation that creates new jobs, and legislation that provides our citizens with the training that they need to break the cycle of unemployment.
We must understand that the minimum wage is not a living wage, and that, without action, we are condemning those with minimum wage jobs to a lifetime of hardship.
Thank you again for this opportunity to speak, and for bringing these issues to the forefront of the conversation.
As we move forward with our work, let us remember the lessons of Selma, of the past. Let them serve as our inspiration and strengthen our resolve as we look to the future and continue our efforts to protect the freedoms and opportunities of the American people.
Tonight I call upon all people of good will, those who Dr. King called the Beloved Community, to join hands and march toward an agenda of healing, justice and equality in commemoration of those historic events.
We march to preserve equality at the voting booth. We march to bring an end to systemic poverty and disenfranchisement. We march because we believe that all lives matter, and that this truth makes our country great.